Let a hundred vape shops bloom

4 minute read

The libertarians behind a new campaign want e-cigarette regulation on their terms.

With the second wave of the Labor government’s vaping regulations set to come in on 1 March, the resistance is ramping up.  

Since 1 January it’s been illegal to import disposable vapes and only legal to sell them if they were imported before this year; if they have nicotine the buyer needs a prescription. From March it will be illegal to import any non-therapeutic e-cigarette and the personal importation scheme will end.  

More legislation is on the way to prevent local manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of all disposable vapes and all non-therapeutic vapes.  

The only retailers permitted to sell therapeutic vapes will be pharmacies.  

This has galvanised something called the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, which has authorised a mass media campaign called “Bust the Black Market” (from which our main image is taken), claiming the new laws will drive e-cigarette supply underground.  

Because the status quo, in which literal children can buy vapes from corner shops containing undeclared nicotine, is so above board.  

The ATA is a libertarian group that lobbies for small government, i.e. low taxes and less regulation, and is part of the same sprawling political family as the Koch brothers.  

It says on an old version of its website: “We oppose the high taxes, wasteful spending, and crippling red tape that is hurting Aussie families and businesses, and provide a voice for everyone who opposes the big-government agenda … Aussie businesses are being crippled by over-regulation, costing tens of thousands of jobs.” 

Which makes it slightly incongruous that what they say they want here is regulation.  

Its demands are: 

  • Introduce strict product standards for vapes to control ingredients and nicotine content 
  • Strictly regulate vapes as adult consumer products just like alcohol and tobacco 
  • Force retailers to have a licence to sell and fine or shut down those who sell to minors 

The ATA formed in 2012 and is best known for opposing the Rudd/Gillard emissions trading scheme or “carbon tax”.  

The alliance is shy about declaring its funding but its executive director Brian Marlow also heads up Legalise Vaping Australia, which campaigned during the Morrison government for nicotine vapes to be available without prescription. While it declared it had received money from individual retailers but not Big Tobacco, it partnered with the Phillip Morris-funded Australian Retail Vaping Industry Australia.  

The ATA is “definitely not three tobacco companies in a trenchcoat”, to quote TMR’s Holly Payne.  

Claims that legally squeezing vape retail will drive the market underground were rebuffed by the Cancer Council and other health advocates at a Senate inquiry last year.  

As tobacco control expert Professor Becky Freeman told Guardian Australia, the Bust the Black Market campaign contains a great big straw man in the form of the word “ban”.

“They misdirect people in their campaign in making it seem like vaping is going to be banned, that there’ll be no way to get these products. And actually we are regulating vaping products just like they call for in their campaign.” 

The new laws fronted by Health Minister Mark Butler are clearly and explicitly aimed at the swelling ranks of very young nicotine consumers and future addicts who are being targeted with bright colours and sweet flavours.  

One thing the laws address by limiting retail licences to pharmacies, and which the ATA campaign glosses over, is the situation where nicotine-free vapes are legally sold by small retailers everywhere, except they actually do contain nicotine some or all of the time and it’s impossible to tell and impossible to police.  

According to the  2022-23 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey almost a third of high school students have vaped and “… one in five [students] who had never smoked prior to trying an e-cigarette reported subsequently smoking tobacco cigarettes”. 

Those who insist that adult smokers need easily available e-cigarettes as an alternative to darts and that this need outweighs all other considerations are running out of legs to stand on.  

Send raspberry-flavoured story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au 

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